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What is Compost?

Benefits of Composting

Using Finished Compost

Compost & Nutrition


Composting Systems

Siting Your Compost Area



What to Compost

Stages of Composting

The Carbon:Nitrogen Ratio

Compost Activators

Turning Your Compost


Quick Start Guide

The Add-as-you-go Pile

The Batch Pile

Grass Clippings

Food Scraps

Leaves, Weeds &
Garden Debris

Compost Tea

Worm Composting


Troubleshooting Guide

Ask Professor Rot



Professor Rot says:

Turning your compost pile is critical to the success of getting finished compost in a reasonable amount of time.

You don't have to do it, but it sure solves a lot of compost problems!

One of the easiest ways to increase decomposition in your compost pile, and to solve many compost problems, is to regularly turn and aerate your compost. Depending on the method you choose to turn your pile, it can be sweaty work or a breeze. This page will explain the ins and outs of aerating your pile, no matter what type of compost bin you have in your backyard.


Turning (aerating) your pile may mean all the difference between getting compost within 4-8 weeks or 3-8 months. Every pile needs a periodic influx of oxygen. If not, your compost heap may just sit there with the bacteria feeling rather sluggish. This anaerobic condition (meaning without air) means slower decomposition, lower temperatures, and possible odor, a potential problem with the Add-as-You-Go pile.

Here are 5 good reasons you should turn your compost pile:

  1. Turning re-heats the pile to keep it in an aerobic state
    Air is important to the decomposition process. Think how long a fire will burn if it does not have air. The mix of carbon (BROWN) and nitrogen (GREEN) organic material in your compost bin/pile is like a fire; air is necessary to keep it going.

    turning compost
  2. Turning creates new passageways for air and moisture before the pile compresses
    As material decomposes your pile will compress and shrink in size. This will naturally cool down the pile sooner than the material is fully decomposed. Turning exposes more particles of material. It fluffs it all up, thereby allowing the mix of air, moisture and heat to continue the decomposition process.

  3. Turning speeds up the composting process
    A cold pile breaks down very slowly, like a fire going out or extinguished. Each time you turn your pile you create more surface area for the vegetal material, enough so that the pile will reheat itself repeatedly after each turning.

  4. Turning elimates odors and matting of material
    A pile that stinks probably has too much nitrogen (GREEN) materials and/or is to moist. It is also probably compressed under the weight of so much moisture in the green materials. Adding more carbon (BROWN) materials to balance out the greens is important, at which time turning is critical to fluff up the organic material. In any case, turning odorous or matted compost heaps exposes more surface area so that air and heat can move again through the pile.

  5. Turning solves many composting problems!
    Already we have given you several problem-solving reasons above for turning your compost. Other reasons can be found in our Compost Troubleshooting Chart.


Professor Rot says:

"Get All Fired-Up!"

Aerating your compost pile gets the bacteria all fired-up again. Aerating remixes ingredients, exposing new surfaces for bacteria to munch on. This "aerobic" form of composting (especially good for the Batch Pile), gets the little microbial critters all hot and bothered, heating up the pile once again in their frenzy.

Turn your pile regularly and, Voila! Composto Supremo in no time at all (or at least it will seem that way)!

turn compost


Turn every 7-10 days

At the least, turn once a week.

For a Batch Pile, turn every few days for the first two weeks, then once a week for the next 4-8 weeks.

For the Add-as-You-Go Pile, turn every few times scraps are added, or when the pile looks matted. Always seal the top with  organic material so that fresh food scraps are not exposed to flies or rodents.

turn compost

Use a garden fork, shovel or a compost aerator tool

Thoroughly turn inner part of pile out to the sides of bin and turn outer parts of pile into the center. This will allow the cooler outer material to heat up in the center.

A common method, as shown in the picture, is to turn the pile from one bin or location to another, especially when the pile is done.

turn compost

Turning solves grass clippings problems

During spring and summer, grass clippings can occupy up to 50% of a compost bin. This can cause significant matting and odor issues.

Frequently turn the grass clippings or the pile when it is loaded with grass. Research shows that the first 2 weeks of grass clippings composting breaks them down the fastest.

turn compost

Check moisture level of pile at time of turning it.

Remoisten if necessary. The pile should have the consistency of a wrung-out sponge

compost hands

Finished compost is almost always at the bottom

Whether you have a commercially made bin or a self-made one, the best finished compost is at the bottom of the pile.

Some bins have trapdoors at the bottom to access the compost. Otherwise, shovel it out of your bin.

finished compost


Anyone who has shoveled or turned compost knows that it can be sweaty back-breaking work (or at least it seems that way!). Most people simply are not up to it. It is difficult for older people, young kids, some women and out of shape men. Most compost that needs turning is left dormant after one or two good tries at turning it.

First off, one needs to decide if they are going to turn the mass in its own bin or into another bin next to it. For the latter, a 2-3 bin system is ideal. Turning the pile in its own bin takes work but can be done well. The problem is that most commercially made bins used by millions of people today have small top openings. Additionally, their height makes it difficult to get a shovel or garden fork deep inside, then leveraged up and out of the bin. It is extremely frustrating, enough to throw up your hands and walk away from it all! Home-made bins made from pallets, wood slats or wire usually have a large front removable opening to easily access the compost pile.



Created in the mid 1990's, compost aerators are the easiest means to turn compost, especially when it is in a commercially made bin. At our large gardens and composting system at Cortesia Sanctuary, we both shovel our compost piles and use an aerator. The aerator always wins out with ease and speed.

Below are the three most common types of compost aerators on the market today. They are all top sellers and are available on the internet. Most garden centers do not stock a compost aerator; they believe it is too specialized (so is a toothpick or cue tip!!) or there is not enough demand.



An adaptation of the Wingdigger model, its two sets of wings and padded handles purport to get the job well done. Wings have short span (4.5 inches), but two sets double your pleasure! Length is 34-inches.



Often called the Wingdigger, the shaft is hollow steel or aluminum, handle is padded. The wing assembly has a very short span (4.5 inches) and may not adequately pull up or churn the pile at deeper levels. Length of 34-inches may be a little short for deep piles and bins.

This aerator is also manufactured with plastic.


This is an industrial strength aerator made out of a solid steel shaft. It has the best wing assembly and the widest, at 7-inches! Padded handles and a lifetime guarantee. Length is 37-inches.



Operating Instructions

  • Thrust the Compost Aerator directly into the center of your compost pile. The wings are folded up.

aerator in

  • As you pull up on the Compost Aerator, the folded wings will open and turn (churn) the compost.

aerator out

  • Hint: relax your shoulders and, while gripping the handles, rotate your shoulders while you pull the aerator up and down, sort of like churning a large vat of milk into butter. The motion is rather effortless compared to the amount of work being done.

  • Repeat until your compost is thoroughly mixed, both center and outer layers.

  • Note: Please don't be alarmed if the wing(s) sometimes are stuck in the folded or splayed position. Just continue your compost turning session. Afterwards, clean the riveted wing assembly with a spray of water. Occassionally oil the bradded coupling with vegetable oil. Sometimes you may need to slightly torque/bend a wing away from the shaft for better wing clearance and movement.

aerator at work
aerator at work
aerator at work

An alternative to a compost aerator is to use a stick or metal bar to stir up the material in your bin, as shown in the picture to the right. However, one soon learns that those wings on an aerator are its most valuable asset.

Note: A No-Turn method to composting is also promoted. Simply stick a 4-inch plastic PVC pipe, drilled with numerous holes, vertically deep into the center of the pile with it sticking up out of the pile. Supposedly, air is vented into and out of the pipe thereby causing rapid decomposition.

turn compost



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